Spielman Endured Tough 2004 as Miami GM

The Miami media wasn't impressed with the job Rick Spielman did in his only season as general manager of the Dolphins. We recount the moves -- good, bad and debatable -- that defined Spielman's tenure in Miami.

By all outside accounts and his first impressions at a news conference at Winter Park on Wednesday, Rick Spielman genuinely appears to be a good man. However, sometimes nice guys finish last, and that is close to where Spielman finished after his only season as a general manager in Miami in 2004.

Eventually, Spielman was forced out of the Dolphins' picture in June 2005 when head coach Nick Saban took control of the player personnel reins of the Miami Mammals.

But Spielman was definitely one of the fall guys for the team's 2004 record of 4-12, and a look at the Dolphins' moves in Spielman's only season as general manager shows a man willing to take risks, many of which didn't pan out.

"His moves were not overly impressive," said one Miami source.

To wit:

  • Spielman was the man saddled with blame for trading a second-round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles for quarterback A.J. Feeley, a move questioned at the time and ridiculed later. It was Spielman's first big move, coming less than two months after being promoted to general manager.

    "They traded a second-round pick for Feeley and now they got Daunte Culpepper for a second-round pick. Something is messed up somewhere there," said the source.

  • Two days after the Feeley trade in 2004, the Dolphins signed safety Chris Akins, cornerback Reggie Howard and guard Jeno James.

    Howard signed a rich six-year contract, as did James, "who is OK but not a difference-maker on the offensive line," according to our Miami source.

    In Howard's case, "they gave him starter's money to become the nickel back at the time, then basically had a starting job handed to him because Patrick Surtain has to be traded because he's going to be getting big money and they have cap issues," the source said.

    It didn't take Howard long – two games – to lose his starting job to fourth-round draft pick Travis Daniels.

  • Less than two weeks after the Howard and James signings, offensive tackle Damion McIntosh received another six-year deal as a free agent. The Dolphins were so thrilled with his play the last two seasons that they released him and re-signed him to a lesser salary this offseason.

    But the Dolphins' troubles in 2004 weren't all Spielman's fault. There were definitely extenuating circumstances. No one could have predicted star running back Ricky Williams would quit on his teammates.

    Spielman admitted that the Dolphins got busted with too little depth at the running back position. In normal circumstances, that would have been difficult to overcome. With Williams quitting on the team and head coach Dave Wannstedt's philosophy to set up the team so their running game could wear down opponents, that was the natural disaster.

    Williams' waffle set the wheels in motion for trading a third-round pick to St. Louis for running back Lamar Gordon on Sept. 9, 2004. He lasted only one season with the Dolphins, rushing for 64 yards in three games with a 1.8-yard average.

    "On the flip side, you look for moves to counteract those and there ain't that many there," the source said.

    Grim as the Miami media may paint Spielman's tenure, though, not all the moves were busts. Some were considered washes.

    In the debatable category comes the case of Adewale Ogunleye, the defensive end who was experiencing contract troubles with the Dolphins. The team traded him to Chicago for wide receiver Marty Booker and a third-round pick. Ogunleye was hurt most of 2004, still managed five sacks, and rebounded for 10 sacks in 2005. Booker had seasons with 638 and 686 yards with the Dolphins.

    Another one for debate was the trade for wide receiver David Boston, who has never lived up to his high-flying days in Arizona, but considering the Dolphins gave up only a sixth-round pick and cornerback Jamar Fletcher, who was considered a bust in Miami, that trade made sense. Both did little with their new teams in 2004 and 2005.

    Spielman also drafted cornerback Will Poole in the fourth round of the 2005 draft, but Poole was hurt last year and the jury is still out on him.

    However, there is a draft move with a Minnesota connection that still has the Miami faithful irked.

    During the 2005 draft, Spielman traded up one spot in the first round, surrendering a fourth-round pick to the Vikings in the process, to move up and select offensive lineman Vernon Carey, "who is an average, mediocre player at best and wasn't a good first-round pick to begin with, and on top of that he gives the Vikings a fourth-round pick," said our Miami source. "It wasn't like he was that great of a prospect to begin with and surprised everybody when he flopped. He wasn't that great going in."

    The implication was that New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick bluffed that he was interested in Carey and he really wasn't, spurring the Dolphins to pursue him more aggressively than they maybe should have.

    Incidentally, the Vikings ended up drafting defensive end Kenechi Udeze after the Dolphins nabbed Carey, and that fourth-round pick was used to select running back Mewelde Moore.

    In 2003, however, before Spielman had control of the personnel decisions, he was apparently pushing hard for the drafting of wide receiver Anquan Boldin (who has since averaged more than 1,100 yards per season for the Arizona Cardinals) in the second round. Wannstedt overruled that desire and drafted linebacker Eddie Moore, now labeled an outright flop.

    Still, some of the Dolphins' failures in 2004 go beyond Spielman's control. He couldn't have known about Williams' sudden decision to leave his team hanging, and he didn't have control over what happened with the coaching staff either.

    Offensive coordinator Norv Turner left in January 2004 to become the head coach of the Oakland Raiders. Wannstedt promoted Joel Collier, their former running backs coach, to offensive coordinator. After what was officially described as health issues a few weeks into the promotion, he was re-assigned back to running backs coach. Chris Foerster, who had only coached tight ends and offensive lines previously, was hired to take over as offensive coordinator.

    Of course, that wouldn't go well either. The Dolphins finished ranked 28th in points scored and 29th in yardage gained on offense in 2004.

    Wannstedt's defensive-minded team was able to rank eighth in yardage allowed, but a 20th-place ranking in defensive points surrendered wouldn't be enough with the team's offensive woes. The Dolphins were strapped with a 4-12 record, Jim Bates finished out the season as the head coach and eventually Spielman succumbed to new coach Nick Saban's heavy hand.

    "There is so little (Spielman) can say or put a happy face or good spin on what happened in 2004," the source said.

    No, not much went right for the Dolphins in 2004, and Spielman and Wannstedt have been left to shoulder the blame.

    Now, after a year in the media spotlight at ESPN, Spielman will have a chance to right the wrongs that plagued the Dolphins in his new home in Minnesota.



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